Catfish industry promotes no-carb status

Catfish is an ideal choice for those on the low carbohydrate bandwagon. Catfish has zero carbs and its price has remained virtually uninfluenced by its no-carb status.

Some 26 million Americans are on a hard-core, low-carb diet while 70 million Americans say they are limiting their carb intake. Around 1,558 new low-carb products have hit stores since 2002. Sales of low-carb products in 2004 are expected to total $30 billion.

Low-carb versions of many popular foods, such as catsup, orange juice, spaghetti, ice cream bars and white bread, are stocked alongside their higher-carb counterparts in supermarkets. The average carb-conscious shopper spends $85 a month on specialty foods.

“Catfish is an excellent choice for those who are following a low-carb regimen,” says Lana Warfield, an Extension agent in Chicot County, Ark.

The average catfish fillet weighs about 5 ounces, says Warfield. It has zero carbohydrates, 24.7 grams of protein and only 2.8 grams of saturated fats. Some low-carb products are loaded with extra calories, so they pose an unnecessary hurdle to weight loss. Not so with catfish.

“A fillet has only 215 calories and more than half the total protein required each day, making it a wonderful option for those who are watching both their waistlines and bottom lines,” says Warfield.

At an average consumer price of $4 to $6 per pound for fillets, catfish is one of the few foods whose price isn't inflated because of its zero-carb status, says Larry Dorman, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Extension fisheries specialist.

Contrary to popular belief, deep-frying isn't the only way to prepare catfish. “It can be grilled, broiled, steamed, poached, simmered, sautéed, micro-waved or baked,” says Warfield.

The secret to successful grilling is to have the coals glowing and grill the catfish flat side up and flip only once. Broiled catfish should not be flipped. It should be broiled flat-side down 4 inches to 5 inches away from the heat.

Baked catfish is easy to prepare. Frozen catfish should go directly from freezer to baking dish; it should not be defrosted. It's so simple — preheat the oven, add a small amount of liquid (broth or lemon juice) and bake at 400 degrees until flesh is firm and flakes easily, about 18 to 20 minutes for a fillet or steak. If fresh, bake 14 to 16 minutes for a small piece and 20 to 25 minutes for larger pieces.

Other variations of baked catfish include brushing fillets with a prepared Thai sauce or butter before baking or baking fillets in a shallow container of marinara sauce, sprinkled with Italian seasonings and then sprinkling with Parmesan cheese midway through baking.

A side dish of fresh asparagus, broiled and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese, sautéed squash, a fresh green tossed salad or a tangy cucumber salad complement baked catfish.

Carol Sanders is a writer/editor for the School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences at the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff (870-575-7238).

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